Food, Life and Love with Antonio Carlucio

Interview by Liz Schaffer & Photographs by Tom Bunning

Very sadly Commendatore Antonio Carluccio OBE passed away in November last year. We hope you’ll enjoy reading this interview with him, first published in Lodestars Anthology Issue 4, Italy. 

Proudly declaring himself to be a cook rather than a chef (by his own definition a chef is professional while a cook does it for passion), Antonio Carluccio was the quintessential Italian about London. Driven by his zest for food, life and Italy, it was the passing on of wisdom that inspires much of Carluccio’s work. Arriving in England via Austria and Germany, where he worked as a wine merchant for almost a decade, Carluccio launched a fleet of eponymous restaurants, ran some of the capital’s culinary icons, became a BBC fixture and was awarded an OBE, which he retitled his Order Boletus Edulis – the Latin name for mushroom, his signature. Young at heart, Carluccio’s enthusiasm was invigorating; proof that life should be lived in the pursuit of pleasure, ardour and flavour.

Your background and training are quite unconventional. Can you tell us about this and how you came to be a cook?

I was born on the Amalfi Coast and was the fifth son of a stationmaster. [We were] transported up North where I grew up near Asti, then I moved a little further up and worked for Olivetti. At the time Olivetti was something fantastic but I didn’t like it very much and I was thinking I could holiday on the Riviera and [there] I met an Austrian girl and we fell in love. She came to work in Olivetti and when my youngest brother died in 1960 she said, “why didn’t I come to Vienna?”.

I cooked all the time because in Vienna to have the food my mother used to [make] I had to cook. I remembered what she was doing because in Italy when you are the young son you participate in everything.

In Vienna I started to cook what I knew. I didn’t know very much but I cook and cook and I’m sharing it with friends and frequenting bohemian cafes. You meet incredible people and I like art so I met Oskar Kokoschka and Max Ernst and we were sharing pasta. I was having fun and cooking all the time. It was only when I came to England in 1975 [and] I was still cooking, that my ex-wife [suggested], “why you don’t [enter] the best cook competition of The Sunday Times?”. I did and I was in the final but for me it wasn’t professional, I was a wine merchant, but funnily enough the press began to contact me. For them I was ‘the Italian’, flamboyant and believing in mushrooms and pasta, and so I was in the press.

At the same time my ex-brother-in-law Terence Conran, the owner of the Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden, asked me to run the restaurant and I said, “look I don’t cook, I don’t do administration, but I will be there doing the restaurant and running it”, which I did. Then came the BBC and I did quite a [few] food and drink programmes. My first Italian series was going to Italy doing twelve half an hours in all the regions. The other series was with Gennaro Contaldo but I did quite a lot in between and I was also writing books. I can’t stay doing nothing.

Do you think people are drawn to the Italian attitude towards food?

Italians live for food. When we were children going to school in the morning you’re already preoccupied by what you would eat in the day. It was the end of war time and the question to other children was “what will you eat for lunch?” and after the meal it was “what did you have for lunch?”, constantly. I remember in the afternoon, when you’re boys you do things, sometimes we were stealing a cabbage from the field and cutting it very, very thinly. Somebody [brought] olive oil, somebody a bit of vinegar and salt and pepper and we were making salad with bread. It was the best salad ever.

Is there an ethos or technique that sets your food apart?

I created a motto for my cooking, ‘mof mof’, minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour, and as such I don’t go to the lengths to elaborate on food because the most important thing is the taste. If you have the taste the look can be indifferent.

In fact we have items in Italy called brutte ma buone, ugly but good; fruit, even biscuits, that show you the possibility of the flavour. I dedicate everything to that which is obtained by regional food. Italy is famed for its 20 diverse regions.

What do you think makes them so distinctive?

Italy was unified in 1861 but I think in spirit each region is a country. You find culture in Italy from everywhere because each one was coming, the French, the Persians, everybody, to Italy. Even Alexander the Great was there. They united Italy in 1861 but there are different languages, different dialects, different customs. But they are united in thinking of the food as one of the best things.

They may be united by a love of food but is there still competition between the regions?

Between little villages! If somebody makes a dish someone in the next village will say, “ahh but I do it with this and this and this”. Immediately there is a conversation. I remember as a child if you were encountering somebody on road and it was lunchtime you would say, “do you want to have lunch?”. It was very simple. They would come home with you. So this is the attitude of the Italian, they really care. I always say that Italy has two or three million Michelin starred chefs, they’re all the housewives.

What do you love most about Italian cooking?

The Italians, what they have in front of others, the Germans, Austrians, English, French, is the attitude. I remember when we used to live in the train station my mother would say, “go downstairs and see if the trains are departing on time” in order to put the pasta in the water so that when papa was coming up the pasta was perfect. When you grow up with this sense of procedure and [significance] then you know food is important. She was really thinking to please other people because cooking for others is an act of love.

[Because of the various regions and diversity] I think that Italy has a more complete menu. There are 600 shapes of pasta and each can be done as a specialty with a special sauce, special ingredients. Italians want good taste and they’re prepared to use all those wonderful shops. In Napoli especially there were shops selling only pasta, and the pasta was loose, not in packets but in drawers, and all the leftovers were put into one ‘special’ and this is for pasta e fagioli – bean soup with pasta – which is wonderful, all bits and pieces. So they really have fun. While other nations have fun in eating the Italian has fun in thinking and imagining it.

What advice do you have for prospective chefs?

You have to desire food, not being greedy but being discerning about what you eat, and pay attention and love your food. If you don’t have those three things you stop cooking because there would be no point, it would just be a job, no fun. Food, it’s not only preparation but fun in eating. It’s good for the brain, for the body, the spirit, for everything.

 

 

Chasing Landscapes

Tom Bunning Lac d'Aiguebelette

Seeking beauty, soliloquies and great heights in Savoie Mont Blanc

Photography by Tom Bunning, words by Jen Harrison Bunning

Think of the Alps and your mind might conjure up pale peaks and wooden chalets puffing merry little smoke plumes from their chimneys. It’s mid-February, or March perhaps, and there you are slotting perfectly into the winter alpine scene: whizzing down slopes, knocking powder from your boots and sipping chocolat chaud with blankets on your knees and the soft sun on your face.

Think of the Alps and you probably wouldn’t picture yourself in the height of summer following gently twisting roads to explore a land awash with lush green fields and flower-filled plains, and speckled with turquoise lakes. The Alps in winter? We had the measure of that alright, but the Alps in summer was an unknown and delicious-sounding prospect.

So in late August we set off to explore the richly contrasting natural beauty of the Savoie Mont Blanc region. We would immerse ourselves gently: first a dip in the magical oasis of one of France’s largest lakes, then onwards in the path of the brave Tour de France riders, winding our way (by automobile, naturally) along the Relais du Chat.

We’d climb the Col du Pré, swing our way up to the l’Aiguille du Midi to gaze upon the terrifying beauty of the White Lady of the Alps and her rocky courtiers, and end up in the shadow of a sea of ice that inspired a literary monster’s lair. This was big game landscape hunting, and we were off.

Tom Bunning Lac d'Aiguebelette

 

Nestled in the crook of the long ridge of the Chaîne de l’Epine, Lac d’Aiguebelette is a shimmering emerald wonderland. With wild reeds, gently sloping banks, little golden beaches and waters that can reach 28°C, it’s no wonder that children from the hamlets dotting the surrounding terraced hills often learn to swim before they can walk.

We took a boat out into the middle of the lake where we paused to soak it all in. With no motorised vessels allowed on the water, the only sounds to be heard were those of the reeds whispering in a gentle wind, rower’s oars dipping in and out of the turquoise depths, delighted cries from young swimmers and the odd fisherman’s barque gliding past in search of lake-fish.

We looked down upon the mill-pond water with its reflections of lush green trees and silvered rocks and then cast our eyes skyward to see a trio of hang-gliders flying silently overhead, their bright sails casting shadows on the side of the ridge as they passed . . .

Tom Bunning Col de Pre

We were off on a mission to the Roselend Dam via the Col du Pré mountain pass. This scenic, twisting road took us through the region’s highest village, Boudin, situated at some 1,300 metres above sea level. The 20-odd chalets that make up this picturesque hamlet are grouped in rows, all clutching the slope’s edge with their faces turned down and out into the valley. Despite being designated as a protected heritage site since the early 1940s, Boudin remains a living and breathing year-round community that’s kept busy by tourism in winter and quietly gets on with agricultural matters the rest of the year. As we wandered past its wooden huts with neatly-stacked wood stores, taking in a 16th century baroque chapel and community bread oven, we imagined life here in bygone days; the harsh, isolating winters no doubt justified by summer’s soft and curving undercoat of greens and golds, embroidered with wildflower meadows and scattered with gently lowing cattle . .

Tom Bunning Roselend Dam

Unlike nature’s pearls of d’Aiguebelette and Bourget, Lac de Roselend has been hewn out of the land by the hands of men, but it’s no less beautiful for that. This 3.2 kilometre reservoir is nestled in the heart of farming country near the foothills of the Mont Blanc massif. Somewhere in its depths lies the submerged hamlet of Roselend, swallowed up by the dam on its creation in the 60s, but this vanished village is the lake’s secret, its innocent surface as smooth and bright as stained glass . . .

Aiguille du Midi, France - Photographed by Tom Bunning

. . . We stood in line to board the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi and looked up at the lines of metal cable spinning towards the skies. It seemed impossible: an extraordinary feat of engineering, but it was as real as can be, and we were going up there. If you’ve a head for heights you might like to look out of the windows as you journey up the cliff face but I must confess that I remained firmly in the centre of the car, eyes squeezed shut and heart in my mouth as we rolled along, jolting over pillars in great swings to the whoops of fellow (quite clearly deranged) passengers. One down, another to go, and this 20-minute torture ride would be over. As we were hustled out onto the platform at the Plan de l’Aiguille (a mere 2,317m) and once again stood in line to face certain death, several variations of I can’t believe you made me do this and many unprintable words were uttered. But then, after one more stomach-jerking ride up into the abyss, we had reached our destination, de l’Aiguille du Midi, a 3842m peak in the Mont Blanc massif with panoramic views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.

. . .  and then there were the mountains, those great condors of the earth – Dome du Gouter, Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc du Tacul, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Grand Combin and, of course, Mont Blanc herself – with their craggy heads cast skyward and ridged wings of rock cascading across the range to touch a fellow giant.

With our heads in those clouds and our feet unsteadily rooted to the ground some 3,700m above sea level, we watched as climbers, swaddled in layers, clambered over the metal gate one-by-one, slowly but surely inching out onto the Arête des Cosmiques ridge and then down to the vast glacial plains below, growing smaller and smaller until they were Lilliputian in scale.

. . . Montenvers lay ‘undiscovered’ until the 18th century when two Englishmen, the bumptious young aristocrat William Windham and the experienced international explorer Richard Pococke, met in Geneva. Tempted by reports of the terrifying, untamed ice fields of Savoye and its inhospitable locals, the pair embarked on an expedition to hunt down those wild landscapes for themselves. In 1791, together with a band of friends, servants, porters and guides, they set out on a five-hour trek up the rocky, overgrown path towards Le Montenvers. What they discovered at the summit had them in raptures; “you have to imagine a lake ruffled by a tempestuous wind frozen up all of a sudden,’’ said Windham, giving the glacier its name, La Mer de Glace, or Sea of Ice. Five years later, local explorers Jaques Balmat and Dr Joseph Vallot went one further and reached the summit of Mont Blanc but, no doubt to the great relief of the tight-knit population of farmers – who had already ‘discovered’ these high mountain pastures and were eking out a tenuous existence grazing their small flocks of sheep – it was to be another 20 years before the climb to Le Montenvers became popular with the masses.

. . . “This is the most desolate place in the world.” So said Mary Shelley when she visited the Mer de Glace together with Percy Bysse Shelley. She had started writing Frankenstein a month earlier while staying with Lord Byron at his Villa Diodati and it is said that her trip to Montenvers and the strange dreams she experienced while staying overnight there, inspired the dramatic scene where Victor and his creation meet.

I suffered a severe teenage pash for Percy B. S., wallowing in fountains mingling with rivers, sunlight clasping the earth, moonbeams kissing the sea etc. etc., before dumping him for the rather more real and troublesome prospect of long-haired boys of few words, cameras and fast cars. Now I barely recognise that poetically enraptured young woman of my past but, as dusk fell and we stood gazing out at the Mer de Glace, some of that doomed brooding poet’s lines came to mind and there, with the pockmarked rocks glowing red around us, a glinting river of ice snaking below, and the looming night swallowing up the last of the light, they seemed not silly nor overly romantic, but dark and earthy and true.

In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
Or the star-beams dart through them.
Winds contend
Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
Over the snow.

Abbreviated article, extract from Lodestars Anthology Issue 9: France

New Zealand Outtakes

At Lodestars Anthology magazine we adore our travelling contributors. Every issue we are sent beautiful words, images and illustrations that inspire wanderlust and remind us just how many talented folks are out there creating in the world. One of the biggest challenges however is selecting just a few of the images sent to us – we may be given 30 shots from a photographer, yet we only have 6 pages to fill. So, we’ve decided to share some of the unpublished gems from our latest New Zealand magazine, which you can buy here … along with Liz’s editor’s letter. Yet again, proof that digital and print can work rather wonderfully together. 

I must confess, this is the part of the magazine I always face last – a final cathartic hurdle before breath is held, pages are approved and a new issue is sent into the world. And while I am writing this, yet again, when all stories have been submitted, it explores an idea that occurred to me early on in my Aotearoa tour; an odyssey that took in as much of the South Island as time and geographic limitations would allow.

I wondered in those early travelling days what I should dedicate this editor’s letter to – how to best define the mood and grandeur of this great island nation. I could have waxed lyrical about its beauty (the work of a dramatic past and pioneering spirits), its residents’ creativity, or the friendliness that accompanies every interaction. There was food, wine, landscapes and adventure. But, after spending a few days around the north-east coast, none of this seemed quite right.

In November 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Kaikoura. And, while New Zealand is a country well acquainted with geological instability, this was different. The township of Kaikoura is renowned for its whale watching, coastline and community spirit, yet five months after the incident it was the ravages of the quake that stood out. There was a quietness, with tourists scarce and many buildings abandoned – in some cases the structural damage was immediately apparent but in others it was difficult to fathom why their doors remained closed. Locals described how they’d been cut off from the rest of the country (the highway from Christchurch had only just re-opened and the road north to Marlborough remained impassable) and the heartbreak felt when the bumper summer season they depended on simply didn’t happen. It couldn’t. No-one could get there.

With this part of the South Island continuing to dust itself off, I took a moment to consider why I am so drawn to travel. While it may be a mode of discovery, the chance to see unchartered terrain and encounter icons, it also comes with a sense of purpose. In places like Kaikoura, damaged through no fault of their own, the one thing we can do as travellers to aid their recovery is visit. If we are lucky enough to be able to see the world, and willing to do so, we should take in these communities, play our part and, more often than not, find something remarkable in the process.

So book your New Zealand ticket – as the following pages will attest it’s a staggeringly magnificent place. Not only will this county soothe your soul, leave you speechless and make you yearn for more, but I know a town that will thank you for it.

Images by Angela Terrell, Evi Ritter, Virginia Woods-Jack, Liz Schaffer and Georgina Skinner.

The New Zealand Magazine

We are pleased to announce that our ocean, wilderness, adventure, design, food, art and wine filled New Zealand magazine will be arriving back from the printers later this week – which means that everyone who pre-ordered with have their little bundle of printed wanderlust sent out to them over the weekend. We can’t wait to share our latest project with you – the work of many wonderful writers, photographers and illustrators from across the globe. In the magazine we chat to chef Peter Gordon and actor/wine maker Sam Neill, kayak around Abel Tasman National Park, sip wine in Nelson, cycle from the alps to the sea, discover the food and beaches of Auckland, find the perfect cup of coffee in Wellington, encounter Kiwis on Stewart Island, seek out calm corners shrouded in history, learn to be mindful, sleep in luxury under the stars, tackle the Great Walks, return home and get swept up in Queenstown’s calm – and that’s just a few of the adventures found upon our pages!

You can order your copy (as well as back issues and subscriptions) by clicking here. For now, here is a sneak peak of some of our New Zealand pages – happy reading (and travelling too)!

 

“We ventured inland across the Alps, through the beech forests and rugged schist ravines of the Haast Pass – once an ancient Māori greenstone trail – emerging into what appeared to be an entirely different country.”

 

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“Not only do artisans and small-batch producers buy each other’s work, they often trade goods based on what’s available. Art for firewood. Jam for flour.”

 

“There really is no place like home. I’d just had to go to the other side of the world and back to get here.”

 

“Ideal for anyone yearning to go off-grid, parts of Fiordland have never encountered a human visitor – but perhaps that’s where its beauty lies, in its inaccessibility.”

 

“This is a beach for solitude, for long walks, and for washing the city away; where heartache and hustle are given up to the waves.”

 

 

 

 

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Path of the Gods

Words by Angela Terrell

For beauty, beaches and lemons, look no further than the Amalfi Coast, the Italian seaside escape synonymous with summer and the sweet life.

We set off as the sun’s soft rays kissed the mountaintops, its tendrils turning the spectacular limestone cliffs golden. Birds heralded the waking day while church bells welcomed early worshippers. Having ably contended with the 534 steep stairs down to the local beach the day before, we thought a quick 1,000 step climb skywards before breakfast would be a breeze.

Our jaunt rapidly became a quest. Stairs hewn from ancient stone rose tortuously, clinging to the land like veins on the heart, ours soon pounding with effort. We rounded corners breathlessly seeking the next Station of the Cross, a constant reminder of the area’s sanctity, but under the rising sun a tantalising promise of sublime destinations and a chance to pause. Old ladies burdened with shopping bags put us to shame by stoically climbing alongside us, stopping only momentarily to pray at grottos along the way.

Finally, with feet firmly on the ground yet spirits soaring, we reached the Sentiero degli Dei, the Path of the Gods. Still used as a mule track by locals who live and farm at these perilous heights, it’s from here that the true magnificence of the Amalfi Coast is revealed. Linking Bomerano with Nocelle, the route passes through olive groves, Mediterranean scrub and chestnut woods, with scattered shepherding ruins adding poignancy to the scene.

Life here continues unchanged by the passage of time. We listened to goat bells echoing across the cliff face and families chattering as they tended vines steadfastly growing on terraces sculpted to provide precious arable land in this dramatic landscape for each generation. Spirit and tradition are carved into the hills themselves.

The path appears to float above the world in an almost celestial way. Far below is the glistening Tyrrhenian and the rickety wooden handrail, although precarious, guided tentative footsteps as hypnotising views were absorbed. Dramatic plunging cliffs line the coast and Capri’s Faraglioni Rocks and the Li Galli Islands can be glimpsed against the horizon where the azure sky and turquoise water meet. Positano nestles peacefully across the bay, immense mountains dwarfing the brilliant buildings all seemingly piled upon each other and cascading down to the sea. Below is a flurry of activity with fishing boats and luxury cruisers leaving artistically patterned wakes swirling in the water.

With this remarkable panorama etched into our psyche and the sun high we turned back towards Casa
Angelina in search of a well-deserved breakfast. Enjoying one of the best views on the coast, this boutique hotel hugs the mountainside at the end of a twisting driveway that tests even the bravest of Italian drivers. Here cutting edge design is paramount and, instead of appearing incongruous in the ancient landscape, the hotel’s clean lines, all-white interiors and soaring windows are a perfect framework for the canvas of natural beauty beyond.

Created to be a relaxing yet opulent villa for guests to enjoy, Casa Angelina also showcases the owner’s private art collection. An involvement in toy manufacturing could explain the whimsical nature of the objects d’art, vibrantly playful Murano glass sculptures and Impressionist-inspired paintings that adorn this tranquil space. Pieces such as smiling moon-men lamp bases and flower-filled table tops add to the enjoyment of staying here – and the sense you’re residing within an ever-changing art installation.

Pristine white furnishings maintain the calming palette in the expansive rooms. Beachside fishermen’s cottages have been converted into apartments for those requiring solitude, but no matter the accommodation, never ending sea views ensure constant tranquillity and ‘barefoot luxe’ encourages you to feel simultaneously extravagant and content.

The outdoor terrace of Un Piano Nel Cielo Restaurant allows meals to be enjoyed above soaring seagulls. Breakfast, designed to be brunch, meets all tastes, but after our arduous morning we particularly enjoyed tasting creamy fior di latte, a mozzarella crafted by locals residing in the hills we had just climbed. Later, as lights from Positano twinkle across the water, this window to the world transforms into a candlelit haven where chef Vincenzo Vanacore wields his magic – the La Gavitella tasting menu is a must.

Little can prepare you for the spectacular beauty of the Costiera Amalfitana. This 50 kilometre stretch of coastline claims to be Europe’s most beautiful and it’s hard to disagree. Cantilevered takes on new meaning here with glamorous hotels and bougainvillea-bedecked villas suspended mid-air. Driving along the corniche with its 1,000 hairpin bends is literally breathtaking and the bus drivers who negotiate precipitous corners over plummeting cliffs are miracle-workers; although you’re unlikely to see them bat an eyelid.

A maritime republic once rivalling Venice, the town of Amalfi was virtually destroyed by a tsunami in 1343, but young aristocrats following the Grand Tour of the 18th century ensured its rediscovery. Today tourism merges with the age old lifestyle as bright orange beach umbrellas flutter over timber fishing boats readied for the morning’s catch and tourists sip Campanellos alongside chess playing locals.

A melange of buildings flow down the cloud-capped mountainside to the bustling harbour and the glazed majolica roof of Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea dominates the town. Piazza Duomo is the place to watch the passing parade. Cyclists fill water bottles from the resplendent fountain’s sculpted marble breasts and gelato is savoured whilst sitting on the imposing staircase leading to the Duomo’s golden façade.

Following a map is pointless; roaming is the way to discover the real beauty. Cobbled streets become passageways wending their way betwixt and between pastel-hued buildings and, as you wander under fluttering washing, the spirited sounds of life echo off timeworn walls.

Many charming towns adorn this coastline but Praiano, where we had embarked on our adventurous morning climb, is a gem. Almost tourist-free, this former fishing village near Positano is the only town on the coast where the sun is enjoyed morning to dusk and fiery sunsets are watched from either of its two beaches, La Praia or La Gavitella. Life at the beach is as bright as the bougainvillea. Local boys dance, Campari in hand, to music bouncing over the waves, hoping to draw the attention of girls sun-bathing nearby. Watermelon hour sees the ceremonial ‘cutting of the melon’, everyone sharing in the dripping sweetness of the fruit before washing off the excess in the warmth of the sea. Cosmopolitan life is the essence of this rocky hamlet.

Atrani is reached by following a meandering pathway from Amalfi. Its timeless charm is pervasive, the beach welcoming and the cheerful piazza full of cafes serving limoncello and local delicacies. From the piazza narrow alleyways lead up to the Valley of the Dragon path. Steep, winding and sometimes filled with grazing goats, it takes you through terraces of luscious lemons and sun-ripened vegetables to lofty Ravello.

For centuries artists, writers, musicians and Hollywood stars have been drawn to this fantastic location – and the charm is evident. The town square appears to be perched on top of the world, and from one of its many cafes you can savour a spritz and watch the promenading of locals and tourists alike. The music-centric Ravello Festival takes place in the showpiece gardens of Villa Rufolo, once boasting more rooms than days in the year. Flowerbeds, palm trees and newly discovered Roman baths adorn the picturesque gardens, many of which seem to float like clouds over the sea far below.

The magical gardens of Villa Cimbrone are designed in the English aesthetic to reinterpret the Roman villa. Mixing exotic and local vegetation with fountains and nymphs, they are both theatrical and grandiose, and the Avenue of Immensity leading to the Terrace of Infinity are breathtaking examples of redefined Roman opulence. With such an evocative name the Terrace of Infinity, adorned with marble busts suspended high over the Gulf of Salerno, has a magnificence that is in no way understated. The view indeed appears infinite and standing by the balustrade you feel insignificant yet strangely calm.

The Amalfi Coast is more than picture-perfect, it has an intensity that seduces. The colours of the landscape are deeper, the expansive sky is bluer and the mesmerising panoramas wider. And of course the stairs are definitely steeper.

Paradise Found

When the winds stir up and clouds descend, it is an island that offers sanctuary – among other deep-sea and earthy delights.

Words & Photographs by Lucy Howard-Taylor

702 kilometres northeast of Sydney, at the intersection of five ocean currents and a submerged continental rib, thrusts forth the remains of an ancient shield volcano. Eroded over seven million years to one fortieth of its original size, Lord Howe Island rises like a wind-shorn jewel from the waters of the Tasman Sea; eleven kilometres long by as little as three hundred metres wide, a vibrant blue-green, its twin peaks capped in cloud. From the sky, the island almost looks like the mossed jawbone of some long-extinct creature given up by the sea.

It may be less than a two hour flight from the crush of Sydney, but the moment you step from the Dash-8 onto the tarmac of Lord Howe’s only airstrip, there is a palpable sense of remoteness. There is no mobile reception on the island and no traffic lights (with next to no cars, bicycles silently reign supreme), but the lack of modern conveniences one might mistake for essential cannot wholly account for the subtle separation felt upon arriving in this UNESCO World Heritage listed property. It is disarmingly beautiful, in an unruly, enveloping way that robs you of words. But there is a strangeness to this wilderness too, with its opalescent lagoon fringed with coral, its deep green canopies of kentia palms, cowrie-studded beaches and panoply of birds.

Travelling in the middle of winter to a subtropical island and the world’s southernmost coral reef may seem perverse, but Lord Howe wore its wild weather hat well. On the tarmac I was left breathless by a brisk wind that tasted of salt and wet leaves. In bed that first night, with large fronds bashing each other outside my window, the roar of the trade winds was almost animal. During the day rain rolled in with no warning and cleared just as suddenly, leaving everything glistening. A wind cheater was essential, and should you go out at night, a torch: there are no streetlights here and the inky completeness of the darkness, broken by a milky wash of stars, took this city dweller by surprise. First things first, hire a bike, even if like me you cannot ride one. With only 360 permanent residents, a maximum of 400 tourists at any one time and 13 kilometres of undulating scenic road, there is ample opportunity for a novice to practice unobserved. Pack a picnic and ride to the preternaturally still and secluded Old Settlement Beach, where three men, three women and two boys came to live in 1833, trading with passing vessels. Or pop over to Ned’s Beach where you can snorkel among fantastically coloured coral gardens (there is an honesty box for hiring gear), or wade closer to shore and hand-feed swarms of tropical fish with names like Silver Drummer and Spangled Emperor. At dusk, throngs of muttonbirds return to their burrows in the low-lying palm forests nearby. As sunset arrives, their distinctive, searching cries can approach an almost human wailing.

These pristine waters host some of the best diving in the world, with an unearthly sunken landscape of volcanic drop-offs, trenches and caves lined with black coral trees, branching gorgonians and over 90 varieties of luxuriant subtropical coral. For those for whom the prospect of coming face to face with the blue teeth of a Harlequin Tuskfish in an underwater canyon sounds vaguely terrifying, you can charter a glass-bottomed boat instead and enjoy the spectacle dry and unmolested from the crystalline surface of the lagoon.

At the southernmost end of Lagoon Road is the start of the Little Island Track, which follows the shoreline to the black basalt cliffs of Mount Lidgbird. Lord Howe is a walker’s delight and this marked and level track meanders its way past picturesque Lovers Bay and through thickly crowded valleys of soughing kentia palms (keep your eyes peeled and you might see a native woodhen grunting happily in the shadows), to the base of the mountain and its stony shores of calcarenite and dark sea-sculpted rocks. Here, especially between March and October, you will see wheeling clouds of one of the world’s rarest seabirds, Providence petrels, diving over the cliffs as they chatter and return to breed. For the more energetically inclined walker, a climb to the scrubby top of Malabar Hill leads to one of the best views of the island and a dramatic scraggy drop to the sea. Alternatively, sign up for the famous day hike to the summit of Mount Gower, where you will find yourself among the twisted trees and inveterate mist of what the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage actually designates as Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest, which sounds more enchanted than ecological.

Enchantment is a recurring theme here. As the days pass, I discover that there is something about this island that is both calming and unexpectedly foreign, a wandering otherness that finds its way in on the throats of seabirds and endows plants with a luminous variety of green. The natural landscape is not only astonishingly lush – isolation, topographic peculiarity and igneous soils have spawned a paradise of ferns, palms, orchids and microhabitats – but feels unusually ancient, almost untouchable. Nowhere is this impression more powerful than in the broody Valley of the Shadows, where 20 metre high trees mottle the light. To stand alone amid this silent grove of banyans, their aerial roots muscling to the ground like the suspended legs of giants, is to realise the difference that is Lord Howe Island. It is to approach the primeval and be at home amongst the extraordinary.

From Lodestars Anthology Issue 3, Australia

The Playground of the Gods

Marina Marcolin, Lodestars Anthology Issue 7, Japan

Words by Cameron Zeyd Lange & Illustrations by Marina Marcolin

Mount Asahidake, the highest point of this wild island, rose up before me in a great mass of black ash and eternal snow. The volcano hasn’t erupted for 200 years but the smell of sulphur still stings the nose. I stood on the edge of Sugatami Pond, one of many lucid pools that mark this marshland, and watched as the fog thickened around the slopes. The water at my feet was like glass, without crease or wrinkle despite the rain, almost mythical, and I was struck by an urge to kneel and drink from it. I refrained, of course – it would have sooner made me sick than strong – but perhaps I should have, for in the end I would need the courage. A typhoon was coming in from the Pacific and I had five days to walk the crescent spine of the national park before it made landfall over Honshū and climbed the length of Japan towards Hokkaido. At last I tore myself away from the spectral water and set off eastward, my hood pulled low over my eyes.

I passed no one on the way up, moving through slanted plains of crumbling volcanic glass which turned to ash as I climbed higher. Before long everything I could see seemed to reflect back to me in negative, divided between the black earth and a white sky. Indeed the only colour in that monochrome world was the moss growing under the rocks, glowing like green jewels, almost fluorescent as if to compensate. Then, further up still, the mountain broke out into a flush of red and pink, the primordial evidence of vast lava fields and the molten wasteland it had once been.

When I squinted it was as if the earth itself was burning. The summit, when I finally reached it, was exposed to the wind and rain and I did not stop to rest. Instead I scrambled in wide strides down the other side of the treeless mountain, digging my heels into the loose ground. Only the occasional lick of yellow paint marked the onward trail, which soon disappeared beneath a vast snow plain that stretched out into the mist without apparent edge or end. Somebody had attached a rope to lead the way but it too vanished only a few steps ahead. The scene felt like a warning, a border I shouldn’t cross. But I held the rope with both hands and walked out, testing the strength of the ice with every step. Halfway across, with the whole world washed clean of form or feature, unable to see where I had started but with the end not yet in sight, I felt blind and afraid. The only evidence that I was on earth at all was the mud I left trailing across the ice. When I finally reached the other side, I looked back and knew I had crossed a frontier from which I could not return. From then on I would only leave these mountains by walking out of them on the other side.

Marina Marcolin, Lodestars Anthology Issue 7, Japan
Shortly before sunset the mountain hut I was looking for emerged from the fog and I lunged impatiently towards its sodden door. Making a space to sleep in the corner of the bare room, I boiled a pot of water for a quick meal, wrung out the sweat and rain from my dripping clothes, and draped them over the rafters. Then I scribbled

Where the hell am I?

into the margins of my damp journal and fell asleep as soon as it was too dark to see.

In the morning, as if in reply to my fevered note, the sun came out, revealing at last where I had spent the night. The shelter was built on the northern crest of a narrow plateau, easy terrain and brilliantly green. Revived by the light, I walked for a few precious hours flanked on one side by cliffs and clouds that masked the depths of the fall and on the other by the surviving snow. I settled into a metronomic stride up and over Mount Chūbetsu, my blood pumping in a paired rhythm. My clothes were finally drying and I was growing confident; it was even sunny enough to burn my ears. But by the afternoon the clouds I had looked down on rose to meet me, and this time, although I did not yet know it, the fog would not lift again.

Marina Marcolin, Lodestars Anthology Issue 7, Japan

I slept that night by the shore of a large crater lake. Its water, reflecting the sky and the snow on the slopes, rippled white as milk. During a break in the rain I ate my dinner barefooted on the beach and buried my toes in the sand, hoping to shock them back to life after the afternoon’s numbing tramp through the mud. It half worked, and I went to bed feeling determined and resolute, exhilarated by the wild weather and the presence of mind it demanded of me.

The next morning the fog was thicker than ever, laced once more with black rain. Beneath the shadow of Mount Tomuraushiyama, I heard the sound of a bell – used by walkers in these mountains to warn the bears of one’s approach – and quickened my step towards it. Eventually two silhouettes appeared from the mist. Surprised to find me alone, the two men treated me like a lost lamb and offered me, in true Japanese fashion, almost all the food and water in their pack and even a kit to repair my torn trousers. I knew to refuse – one should never take another hiker’s provisions – but their presence alone comforted me and I prolonged the encounter as much as the language barrier allowed. They were homebound men in a way that I was not, and they knew it too; as I walked away I could feel them watching me, wondering if it was wise to let me leave at all.

Marina Marcolin, Lodestars Anthology Issue 7, Japan

I spent the rest of the day following my feet through the valleys, my sense of distance and time distorted by my sightlessness. With nothing of the outside world to stir the mind, my thoughts increasingly turned inwards, and I repeated the three Bashō poems I knew like a prayer. The land, shorn of its detail, seemed to echo the very essence of his haikus: austere and exact, giving me no more and no less than I needed. In other ways it was the physical manifestation of a Zen kōan, designed to provoke doubt in the whole enterprise. In that it succeeded; it was getting harder and harder to tease out meaning from that shrinking world. “Walking”, Rebecca Solnit wrote,

“is how the body measures itself against the earth.”

But what am I to do when the earth itself is hidden? And what if my body, denied the anchor of the horizon line, begins to vanish too?

Marina Marcolin, Lodestars Anthology Issue 7, Japan

By the afternoon I had run out of water, the streams that my map promised having never materialised. I paced on through the thicket and gathering storm, shouting now and then to alert the bears, continuing long into the first hour of darkness. When I could walk no further I found a small patch of flat earth softened by the rain and set up my tent. I ate a couple of oat bars to placate my hunger and tried to fall asleep quickly to forget my thirst.

With the dawn came a pounding headache. I sipped all the dew I could from the morning leaves and set off gingerly into the dull light. After an hour I reached a swollen stream and drank several litres squatting on my heels in the orange mud. To the southwest loomed Mount Oputateshike and I had no choice but to climb it; the path offered no shortcuts and to forge one of my own would have been suicide.

Marina Marcolin, Lodestars Anthology Issue 7, Japan

As I left the valley’s protection the wind grew so strong that I had to turn my back to it simply to breathe and soon it took all of my waning strength to walk at all. Every gust threw me sideways, whipping flints of ice into my face. The steep hairpin trail, littered with flaking pumice rocks, disintegrated beneath my feet. As I climbed higher the wind grew angrier still and it suddenly caught the rain cover of my pack like a sail and flung me backwards, sweeping my legs from under me. I heard the sound of something snapping: my walking stick, hanging in half, had broken my fall. I watched my rain cover fly away down the mountain, like a kite I would never see again. I don’t know how much time passed before I reached the peak. But there, instead of coiling downhill as I had hoped, the trail followed the ridge of the mountain. Parts of it were no more than a yard across, sinking into nothingness on either side. One wrong step would be my end. I had no choice but to fall to the ground, breathing heavily with my cheek in the mud, and crawl like a soldier from cover to cover. My naked pack, acting now as a sponge for the rain, felt like a boot pressed against my spine and I had to use all my experience to fight my rising panic. Don’t stop, I thought.

Don’t stop.

The full version of this article appears in Lodestars Anthology Issue 7: Japan.